Home > Uncategorized > “Where has the western church gone wrong and when did it occur?”

“Where has the western church gone wrong and when did it occur?”

ignatius-of-antioch-1.jpgRecently I received the following question in an e-mail:

“Where has the western church gone wrong and when did it occur (in your opinion)?”

I thought I would put my answer here for others to discuss. How would YOU answer this question? Yours for the least in the Kingdom, Jeff

Dear Mark, Great Question. I wish more people would ask it.

My opinion is that “early on” things went wrong. It was really inescapable. The question is: Do we have to live today under the ramifications of those failings?

Start with Paul.

In Ephesus, Paul prophesied that from within their own ranks (ie. elders) men would distort the truth to draw away their own followers. (Acts 20). He also said “All in Asia left me…” towards the end of his life. Maybe this was hyperbole, but he said it nevertheless…

John had his own troubles with different leaders. Take Diotrephes, who “loved to be first and would have nothing to do with us”. He also cast his negative influences upon other churches.

Death of the Apostles

I think after this, the first major problems sprang up after the death of the first real apostles, the ones chosen by Jesus either directly or like Paul and Timothy, Silas, Luke, etc.

Someone, somewhere along the way started to declare himself a type of “senior elder” which would later become “senior bishop”, which later became the Pope.

In a heroic effort to fight heresy and the unravelling of the church, Ignatius declared that the Bishop was equal to God! “I exhort you to be careful to do all things in the unity of God, since the Bishop sits in the place of God…” (St. Ignatius’ Epistle to the Ephesians 6:1). Ignatius coined the famous expression: “Where the Bishop is, there is the Church”. He himself should know, I guess, being the Bishop of Antioch!

The Influence of Greek Ideas

The second major problem was as the gospel spread to the Greek world it took on more and more of an “intellectual” religion, with creeds and “I believe…” statements rather than a group of followers in a Risen Christ. I found the book The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity by Edwin Hatch excellent in bring up these issues.

“They were a nation of talkers. They were almost the slaves of cultivated expression…. Like children playing at ‘make-believe’…It was impossible for Greeks, educated as they were with an education which penetrated their whole nature, to receive or to retain Christianity in its primitive simplicity. It necessarily gave to Christianity something of its own form.” (Hatch)

Constantine the Great?

The third major problem sprang up with Constantine the Great, as he consolidated his empire by piggy-backing on the newly freed Christians. Lots of skeletons in his closets!! He really brought us church as we know it today: a special meeting in a holy place on a holy day brought to us by a holy man for a holy price, etc. He made Sunday the official holiday of his kingdom and overnight demanded that the temples be full. “Conversions” by the sword were common.

Unfortunately, most people start with Constantine but I think that is short sided. He merely exasperated an already festering problem.

A couple of links to other stuff I wrote re. this question.

The Influences of Greek Ideas on Christianity

How Things Started to Unravel in the Early Church

Many Blessings.

Jeff G

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 28, 2008 at 11:38 AM


    Must say I pretty much agree with you. But I think we have to distinguish between the personal things and the corporate things. Ignatius was wrong, but one wrong person doesn’t destroy the church. One of the conclusions I have come to is that God can cope with us being sinful, wrong-headed, silly, etc. The church will always be limping along.

    But the institutionalised stuff is far worse, because it entrenches things in people’s minds and for long lengths of time. So I think Constantine was definitely a big step backwards. I think the whole politicising and secular empowering of the church so that it became a vehicle for ambitious men resulted from that, and led to the Holy Roman Empire (which, if it had really been holy, would have a serving rather than ruling organisation).

    Even today, in big and small ways, the church is too often associated with the state and compromised because of it. I spent 2 years in the Army (conscripted) and observed how the army “uses” chaplains to help soldiers to be better fit so they can kill people better. I observe from a distance how the US church has become (in my opinion) far too associated with conservative politics and capitalism (perhaps the true religion of the US) so that “God bless America” is more a political slogan than a real prayer.

    Simple church would help here, as elsewhere, in being less vulnerable to political exploitation.

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